By: Marilyn L. Davis
Early Recovery – A Time of Stress
Feeling stressed in our early recovery is predictable, and most of us want a way to deal with it without a relapse. We’re overwhelmed, confused, and usually at a loss about what to do next. While we realize that relapsing will only add more stress, we still want some relief.
Fiona Wood, writing in Six Impossible Things, describes us as: “Stress level: extreme. It’s like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.”
Stress Creates an Emotional Time-bomb
I’ve felt that way, and it is not a good feeling. When we are upset or overwhelmed, it is an uncomfortable and often frightening time. The big picture seems like too much, and the little things are driving us slightly nuts. Early recovery is just such a time.
What Causes Stress?
The causes of feeling overwhelmed are going to differ from person to person. Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman suggested in 1984 that stress results from “an imbalance between demands and resources” or as occurring when “pressure exceeds one’s perceived ability to cope’. Some situations, behaviors, and attitudes that can cause confusion and feeling overwhelmed include:
- Relationships – both new beginnings and endings of relationships
- Physical or mental health conditions – for yourself, a loved one, or someone close to you
- Significant changes: Going off to school, job change, marriage, divorce, or separation
- Job Promotions
- Financial Difficulties
- Expecting yourself and others to do things perfectly
- Taking on too much, at work, in a relationship, or at home
- Not understanding time management
Isolating Why You’re Stressed
Take the time to isolate the situations in your life that are bothering you and assign a percentage of your feelings to each situation.
A person new in recovery is usually overwhelmed by all that they have to do to stay in recovery. Sometimes, it’s their perception that they had to change everything at once.
They would start with “100% of my overwhelmed and confused feelings are about this thing called recovery, and then find the aspects of that situation that are causing the chaotic and overwhelming emotions.
Once you’ve isolated the variables that cause you to stress, take each variable, and decide if there are actions to take or anything you can do:
- Immediately: to relieve some of the feelings
- Soon: more relief as you have a plan
- Indefinitely postponed: acceptance and relief as there is nothing to do at this time
- Uncertain what to do first? Then ask for advice.
- Don’t know how to do something? Then ask knowledgeable people.
- If you decide that you do not want to do something, then learn to accept this decision, without stressing and feeling guilty about the decision.
Deal with the Smaller Components
Isolating the variables, determining when you can take action, and then creating effective strategies will relieve some of your stress. Robert Pozen thinks that “Most people get overwhelmed by the insignificant decisions of their lives. I’m urging people to lessen the time spent on these when they’re not critical to their most important goals.”
When you break variables down, you can sometimes see that a particular aspect is not a significant contributor to your stress, and you can focus your mental, emotional, and physical energies to changing another aspect.
By making small changes, you can lessen your overwhelmed feelings and confusion. Mapping out strategies, deciding the order of dealing with the variables, and planning actions will help you feel more in control and less confused and overwhelmed.
Strategies for Lessening Stress
Prioritizing and creating strategies can relieve some of the pressure that you put on yourself if you decide that something can wait, and you can do it later, providing you are not just procrastinating.
Procrastinating can happen when you do not know what to do first. Or you are uncertain about how to do something, or you do not want to put the time, energy, or effort into the task.
Then there are the times that you know you need to change something, and even feel guilty because you aren’t making an effort to improve, but you still do nothing to alter the situation.
Guilt Does Not Always Motivate People
Guilt is a non-productive emotion if it doesn’t motivate you. In other words, don’t continue to say you feel guilty when you do or don’t do something, but continue with the old behavior. If you can’t make a change now, then make a time-frame for resolving your variable.
Then stick to the plan, but don’t spend a lot of time talking about how guilty you feel. If you genuinely felt guilty, you might change that variable now.
For instance, if you choose to study recovery materials for one hour each night, don’t feel guilty if something comes up that is of higher priority, and you can’t get to it that night. Get back on schedule the following evening.
If you are going to have to change behaviors to relieve your feelings of confusion and being overwhelmed, do not try to change them all; three variables are enough to start.
How Can an Isolating Exercise Help My Stress?
Deciding that there are actions that you can take now and behaviors that you will do later help you lessen your level of stress. When you commit to and follow through with organized, planned actions, you may find that your feelings are changing, also. Some predictable new feelings might include:
With just this simple isolating exercise, we have begun to correct some things that cause us to feel confused or overwhelmed.
When we isolate the stressors, take actions to correct them, and don’t relapse over them, we’re acting from solid recovery practices.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.
When you’re ready to share your experiences about addiction and recovery, consider a guest post. How something is said is just as important as what is said. Your words will touch someone in ways that mine can’t, and that’s the beauty of words, sharing, and helping those still struggling with addiction.